Wheat Research Attracting Investors
RESEARCH COLLABORATION IS A WIN-WIN
Bayer Crop Science recently announced a major collaboration with KSU. The company is also working with the University of Nebraska, South Dakota State University, North Dakota State University, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. “These universities have a great deal of capabilities,” said Rick Turner, global head, wheat and oil seeds, Bayer CropScience. “It is win-win when you collaborate with them.”
For Bayer, wheat is already a major portion of its business. The company is already the world’s largest input supplier to wheat producers, and now sees a major opportunity developing for wheat seed. It is one that Turner noted should not be exclusive to Bayer.
“Wheat is a huge crop with huge opportunities, and more investment in the crop benefits everyone,” said Turner. “We tend to look at it as a single crop, but there are many different dimensions to it and reasons to grow it. Some use it for grazing and grain, while others produce durum for a committed contract export customer. Both growers are interested in productivity gains, but the term means different things to them.
That’s what makes it interesting.”
GENOME SEQUENCING CHALLENGES
Wheat germplasm itself is part of the research problem. Wheat is a massively complex genome, many times more complex than the human genome. While other crops and animals have been genetically sequenced, only pieces of the wheat genome have been cracked.
“Wheat is a hexaploid with six sets of chromosomes versus two sets for humans,” said Minton. “More parts of the sequence are becoming available all the time, but more remains to be done.”
Breeders aren’t waiting for gene sequencing to be completed. They are already making use of new breeding tools and what has been learned. KSU, home to the Wheat Genetics Resource Center wheat gene bank, is a center of this activity. It is also the lead academic institution for the first National Science Foundation industry/ university cooperative research center devoted to an agricultural crop. When the NSF awarded a seed grant to start the center, at least three industry partners were required to join and offer financial support—10 companies signed on.
The research center will largely be housed at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center (KWIC), a major hub of industry/ grower/university collaboration. Funded largely by the Kansas wheat producers’ check-off funds, the 40,000 sq. ft. KWIC includes 15,000 sq. ft. of wheat breeding laboratories, a 10,000 sq. ft. greenhouse complex and 15,000 sq. ft. of office space.
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